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    Musical Theater

The Mail Order Monkey Musical

Brian Wilbur Grundstrom scores Pepe: The Mail Order Monkey Musical
Lyrics by Jon Gann and Andrea King
Book by Jon Gann based on a true story as told by Tim Tate
Orchestrations by Brian Wilbur Grundstrom
Music and Lyrics © 2009 Jon Gann, Brian Wilbur Grundstrom, Andrea King
Presented by Mather Theatricals
Press Release

Performed as part of the DC Fringe Festival
July 15,18,22,24 & 25, 2009
Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church
900 Mass. Ave., NW Washington DC 20001

Various Artists: Brian Wilbur Grundstrom: Pepe! The Mail Order Monkey Musical

Pepe! The Mail Order Monkey Musical


In the woods, under a tree, young Timmy reads his comic books in solace. Picked on by his brother, ignored by his social-climbing parents, and shunned as a nerd by his classmates, he -- just like everyone in his family -- longs to be free from the conventions of a very conventional life.

The Boys: John Moriarity, Cyle Durkee.  Th Tree:Betty Entzminger SONG: A Suburban Life

(Company: Catherine Aselford, John C. Bailey, Cyle Durkee, Betty Entzminger, Charlotte Hendrix, Suzie Mellring, John Moriarity, Ellie Nicoll, Jessica Phillippi)

Tim's brother (Chris) locates him under the tree and calls him back to the house for daily chores. As Chris rips a comic book from Tim's hands, his eye catches an advertisement for a mail-order monkey. Could this be the ticket to cool?

The Boys: John Moriarity, Cyle Durkee SONG: Be Cool

(The Boys: John Moriarity, Cyle Durkee)

Meanwhile, the parents, frustrated with their wandering children, bemoan the responsibilities of parenthood.

The Parents: Suzie Mellring, John C. BaileySONG: Raising Boys

(The Parents: Suzie Mellring, John C. Bailey)

The boys send off the mail-order monkey order form and the money from their piggy bank. Time passes slowly and monotonously.

The cast dancesDANCE: Cul de Sac

(Time Passage: Instrumental)

Pepe: Rick HammerlySONG: Pepe's Song

Rapped in a small box, a squirrel monkey jostles around, lamenting his fate.

(Pepe: Rick Hammerly)

Days continue to pass. One Saturday, the house is prepared for a special bridge tournament which Tim's mother is nervously preparing to host. In the midst of cleaning and the arrival of early guests, the doorbell rings. The postman has a package addressed to the boys. When the mother tries to reject the package, the postman states that the monkey inside will surely die on its return trip. Unable to cope with the situation, she accepts the package and places it on the kitchen counter. Turning to her anxious sons, she instructs them "Whatever you do, do not touch that box!"

The Family: John Moriarity, Cyle Durkee, Suzie Mellring, John C. Bailey)SONG: It's Here!

(The Family: John Moriarity, Cyle Durkee, Suzie Mellring, John C. Bailey)

In the living room, the women of the bridge club patter about their social obligations and gossip about one another -- and their undeserving hostess.

The Bridge Club:Jessica Phillippi

The Bridge Club: Charlotte Hendricks

The Bridge Club: Catherine Aselford, Charlotte Hendricks, Ellie Nicoll, Jessica PhillippiSONG: The Bridge Club

(The Bridge Club: Catherine Aselford, Charlotte Hendricks, Ellie Nicoll, Jessica Phillippi)

Hovering over the kitchen counter, Tim and Chris cannot contain themselves ­there is a monkey in a box! In an effort to help the monkey breathe easier, they decide to pick at the ragged edges of the box -- after all, enlarging an existing hole is not opening the box…

The Boys: John Moriarity, Cyle DurkeeSONG: Pick It

(The Boys: John Moriarity, Cyle Durkee)

The overzealous widening of the hole has allowed Pepe to escape. For a brief moment, the monkey calmly surveys his landscape. Calm turns to panic as the monkey begins a rampage around the kitchen and into the living room, defecating and urinating on the walls, jumping on beehive hairdos, and biting an unsuspecting club member. When the father opens the front door to discover the pandemonium, Pepe escapes.

The Boys: John Moriarity, Cyle Durkee and Monkey: Rick HammerlyDANCE: The Escape


The boys immediately run after their new friend. Sensing the worst, the parents follow. Through garbage cans and sheds and the woods, they all frantically look for the monkey.

SONG: He's Gone

(Company: Catherine Aselford, John C. Bailey, Cyle Durkee, Betty Entzminger, Charlotte Hendrix, Suzie Mellring, John Moriarity, Ellie Nicoll, Jessica Phillippi)

Exhausted and feeling guilty for not being a more attentive parent, the mother sings of regret and announces her renewed drive to live as carefree a life as her children should.

The Mother: Suzie MellringSONG: I Know What’s in my Heart

(The Mother: Suzie Mellring)

The kids return to the house, distraught at the loss of their friend. With Pepe's disappearance, all gain the freedom to encounter the future with purpose.

The Boys: John Moriarity, Cyle Durkee and Parents: Suzie Mellring and John C. BaileySONG: Finale -- The Winds of Change

(Company: Catherine Aselford, John C. Bailey, Cyle Durkee, Betty Entzminger, Charlotte Hendrix, Suzie Mellring, John Moriarity, Ellie Nicoll, Jessica Phillippi)

The Washington Post

Friday, July 10, 2009
'Pepe' at Home at Fringe Fest

It's two weeks before opening night, and the cast of the Capital Fringe Festival's "Pepe! The Mail Order Monkey Musical" is still making do without a finished set, costumes or props. Worse, Rick Hammerly, the Helen Hayes Award-winning actor who plays the titular primate, is out sick, having been replaced -- for the show-stopping number that includes the lament "What Am I Doing in This Box?" -- by musical director Brian Wilbur Grundstrom and -- for his poop-flinging escape from the aforementioned shipping container -- by co-choreographer Nora Lockshin.

Nevertheless, the music and vocal performances are almost shockingly polished, and not only for a Fringe show, which this most definitely is.

Based on the real-life experience of local glass artist Tim Tate -- who as a 9-year-old in the late 1960s sent $19.95 for a live squirrel monkey, only to have the animal wreak havoc on his mother's bridge club -- the musical by filmmaker Jon Gann, founder of the D.C. Film Alliance, is an at-times-funny, at-times-poignant meditation on freedom. It also has been given a somewhat happier ending than the actual story. The show may be all Gann's, as Tate is quick to point out, but that doesn't stop Tate from providing a quick promotional blurb. "It's 'Les Miz,' " he says, "with a monkey."

-- Michael O'Sullivan


Suzie Mellring Sings I Know What's In My Heart from Pepe! The Mail Order Monkey Musical

Suzie Mellring sings I Know What's In My Heart from Pepe! The Mail Order Monkey Musical (photo by Tom Kochel)

cast from Pepe! The Mail Order Monkey Musical

Cast from Pepe! The Mail Order Monkey Musical (photo by Tom Kochel)

Interview from DC Theatre Scene

Composer Brian Wilbur Grundstrom:

Joel: Tell us about your composing career.

Brian: Pepe! is my first musical, but not my first time writing for voice, nor the orchestra, nor for theater. I have written several choral works, so the process of setting text to music was not new, but the traditional Broadway format requested by Jon was new. In writing concert choral works, I had more liberty to repeat and expand the text as required by the music. The Broadway format, however, I found to be much more rigid, and more about getting through the text. Not the lingering aria I wanted to write.

Joel: Talk about the process of writing the score.

Brian: Jon (Gann) may have requested a simple traditional Broadway format, but given my classical orchestral training and film work, there was no way that I was not going to have my [sophisticated if I may] voice work its way into the music. For example, rhythm was extremely important in “It’s Here”. Not written the standard 3/4 or 4/4, the compound meter (3+3+2+2/8) provided for that “extra” beat that made the song both sophisticated and catchy. This meter challenged the actors, but they rose to the occasion and the hard work paid off.

The structure, while limiting, however does provide a framework within which creativity can flourish. While Jon provided me with the structure – the A B and C parts, the text also required subtle variations, much like the flourishes on a Chopin Nocturne to provide interest while repeating the same material. Orchestration was also key to provide variation along with character development depending on who was singing the verse. For example, Chris got rock drums as part of his rebellious character. The father’s lines were simplified to be more in character.
Given this emphasis on a pre-defined format, writing Pepe required a lot of manipulation of the fundamentals of music – melody, harmony and rhythm. Unlike my orchestral compositions, the more impressionist elements of texture and dynamics took a secondary role, providing variation in repeats as opposed to defining structure.

I was actually surprised how much I used my knowledge of music theory to help me solve the problems at hand. In fact, it was considerably more than my recent concert premiere of “American Reflections for Strings and Harp”. In writing for orchestra, I orchestrate as I compose, and I have learned that I really can trust my ear to let me solve the issues at hand, and only analyze harmony as needed if a problem arises.

By contrast, writing for Pepe! started first with a piano score, and orchestrations were the last thing to be completed (and changed until the day before opening). During this process, parts of the musical had to be moved around and adapted to fit as necessary. Solving these issues required much more harmonic skill to get them to work appropriately. And add to that the obligatory “cheap modulation” to provide forward motion, as well the accommodation of the singers’ vocal ranges. Finesse and sophistication of music theory is required to make these modulations work properly and not sound tacky.

Another example of the deliberate use of harmony is in “He’s Gone”, where I employed a deceptive cadence to create interest. (A deceptive cadence means resolving to sixth rather than the tonic. In C major, that would meaning resolving to an A minor chord rather than a C major chord. It is called deceptive because two the notes in the chords are the same – C and E. The G however is replaced by and A.)

Lastly, interaction with the singers helped shape the work. When Rick Hammerly came over to record his solo for the cast recording, we made some refinements. Without a conductor, it was important to build in musical cues so that the actors know when to come in. For Rick, this meant adding in a few bells at the start of phrases following a held note.

Co-lyricist and Book writer Jon Gann

Joel: How did you meet your co-lyricist Andrea King?

Jon: A funny story. I was standing in line at a film festival in Ashland Oregon in March and began speaking with the woman next to me in line. She asked about my next film project, and I informed her that I was writing a musical – and just completed the lyrics to the last song over breakfast. She asked to hear it, so I sang the song in the middle of the sidewalk. We exchanged information, and I thought nothing of it. Later that afternoon, she emailed me with revised lyrics to the song — and they were good! My lyrics were about advancing the plot, and hers were more poetic. I asked if she wanted to take a crack at revising the lyrics to the whole show, and she accepted. Over the next 3 weeks, I would receive an updated song every few days. I edited a few lines from here and mixed them with a few of mine to get the final set you heard last night. We are flying Andrea (King) in from Oregon for the last week of the show — she has never been to DC, and this is her first musical.